About 150 relatives of missing people protested outside a hearing of the Presidential Commission on Missing Persons in Trincomalee, a city on the east coast of Sri Lanka, on February 28.
The protesters were mainly Tamil women whose relatives are still missing after being arrested or abducted by the Sri Lankan armed forces. They expressed their lack of confidence in any commission appointed by the Sri Lankan government, and demanded investigations by a United Nations team.
One of those who took part in the protest was Ananthy Sasitharan, who became a campaigner for the disappeared after the disappearance of her husband, and is now a member of the Northern Provincial Council.
She explained that she had taken her case to Sri Lankan government bodies including the presidential commission on missing persons, with no result. Sasitharan took the complaint to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva.
However, the Sri Lankan government has refused to allow an inquiry team from the OHCHR into the country.
The Trincomalee protest follows a demonstration of more than 5000 people in Jaffna, a city in the north of Sri Lanka, on February 24. The march started at Jaffna University and included many students and staff, but was also supported by many other organisations, including trade unions.
The rally demanded that the OHCHR team be given access to Sri Lanka to investigate war crimes and human rights violations. It also took up other issues such as the heavy military presence in Tamil areas and the Sri Lankan government’s policy of colonisation of Tamil areas by Sinhalese settlers.
Demonstrators criticised the failure of newly elected Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena to end the oppression of Tamils.
A statement issued by the protest organisers said: “The first month of President Sirisena’s government has proved that the Tamil people cannot expect anything new from this government barring a few cosmetic changes.
“The key issues that we face are those relating to militarization, colonization (by way of forcible demographic changes), the issue of disappearances and illegal detention. No significant steps have been taken by the Sirisena government on any of these issues”.
The Northern Provincial Council, an elected body representing the inhabitants of the predominantly Tamil northern province of the island of Sri Lanka, has adopted a resolution entitled “Sri Lanka’s genocide against Tamils”.
It “provides an overview of the evidence demonstrating successive Sri Lankan government’s genocide against Tamils”, and asks for the OHCHR team to “investigate the claim of genocide and recommend appropriate investigations and prosecutions by the International Criminal Court”.